Lessons My Cats Taught Me
I was five or six years old, reading a book as the babysitter similarly idled away the time. When my parents came home, they were bearing mischievous smiles and a large cardboard box. I peered over with interest as they set the box on the dining table and lifted out a small, grey kitten. I was too stunned to let out more than a rather stupid “What’s that?”
Willow, so named because my favorite book at the time was The Wind in the Willows, lived up to his name. He was kind and gentle, a loving lapcat who enjoyed nothing better than to soak up the sun and snuggle with us on his favorite chair.
Unfortunately, I was not the best housemate. I played too roughly with him and yelled when he carried away my stuffed animals. And yet Willow never stopped being loving and affectionate. We grew up together and I eventually treated him with more respect. I always expected him to be there.
Willow developed kidney disease, and we gave him saline treatments every day for months until he passed away. Those sessions were horrible, as he struggled and meowed in pain whenever we tried to place the IV. Otherwise, though, he was his usual self. Actually, he was more affectionate than usual, which we eventually realized was his way of saying goodbye.
From Willow, I learned that the people we love deserve our respect and affection, even if we’re suffering. As Willow neared the end of his life, he gave more of himself, not less. That’s someone we should all emulate.
Before Willow passed away, he’d made a new friend. We adopted her from a shelter group. Inspired by the vibrant color of her eyes, I named her Zoe (derived from the Greek for “life”). She was a beautiful cat with an ugly meow. Whenever she talked, she sounded extremely annoyed, emitting a mighty rasp from her gaping mouth.
At the time, we lived in an A-frame house with a loft. One day, we were sitting in the living room when we heard a yelp from the loft above. A split second later, Zoe landed on the couch. Her tightrope act on the railing had failed. We leaped up in concern, but Zoe shook her head and strutted off, tail high in the air. The message was clear. “I meant to do that.”
I took Zoe’s attitude to heart. Whenever I messed something up, I passed it off like I’d meant to do that all along and turned my mistake into an opportunity, tail high in the air. When I became a circus artist, I learned to hide my mistakes and make it part of my act. Smile through it, even if you just kicked yourself in the face! Inspired by Zoe, I made “walk it off” one of my core philosophies.
Ten years ago, I was working at PetSmart on a Sunday evening, which was not my usual shift, when someone brought in a filthy, bloodied kitten who was dragging his back right leg. They said they’d found him on the side of the road outside, and they wanted the store to take him. Obviously, we weren’t a vet, and most of the shelters and vets were closed because it was a Sunday evening. The only open shelter was one that immediately euthanized sick animals. I volunteered to take the kitten home and try to get him some help.
When the vet examined the kitten the next day, he discovered that his pelvis was broken in five places and the nerves to his leg were severed.
Someone had likely thrown him from a car.
The vet predicted that he would never use that leg and that it would eventually have to be amputated because dragging it would cause infection.
The kitten was too weak to eat or drink, so I bottle fed him for weeks. We bonded, and I decided to keep him. Amazingly, he started putting pressure on his back leg and, slowly but surely, was able to use it. He became a typical rambunctious kitten, getting into everything.
Because it was so fortunate that I’d happened to be at the store when someone dropped him off, and because he miraculously recovered from his injury, I naturally named him Lucky.
Lucky has been with me through some of the hardest times of my life. My then-roommate was a manipulative, abusive bully and tried to steal him when I was moving out. I’ve never been as much as a lioness as when I went to defend my cub. Then, I fell into an abusive relationship. Lucky was always there for me to cuddle and comfort me when I was suffering.
As I escaped my abuser and went on to finish graduate school and get a good job, Lucky was the mainstay in my life, always cheerfully greeting me when I came home from work or class. He loves to play with the “bird,” which is any toy on a string, and he loves “cake,” which is wet food. He knows these words, and he has a special meow just for me, which I guess is what he’s named me.
Lucky taught me the power of unconditional love. He showed me that good things happen when we lead with compassion, and that even in our moments of deepest despair, we can find a light in our loved ones. We must lead with affection and cheer even if we are struggling. Lucky reminds me that I too am lucky to have the life that I have.